Here’s the homily from Sunday on Mark 1.40-45. You can listen to the audio below, on the sidebar to the right. You can download it in iTunes under ‘Tamed Cynic’ or, better yet, download the free mobile app.
The sermon was short this week because we used the worship service time to package meals for Stop Hunger Now.
This is Anna Lucia.
She’s five years old in this picture. I met her just before Christmas a few years ago. She lives in the Highlands in Guatemala.
I built a wood-stove in her family’s house so that her mother would have something to cook over instead of cooking over an open fire inside their home.
Anna’s house is about half the size of my bathroom. It’s made of mud with an earth floor in a village routinely devastated by mudslides.
The only other possessions in the house were a dirty mattress, a faded soccer poster, and a tiny little Christmas tree with jagged, broken colored lights.
At that altitude it frosts every night, but there’s no heat. Not even a door just bright pink tapestry hanging from the ceiling- and you could hear that cold in Anna’s breathing. It sounded like she had pneumonia.
You can’t tell from this photograph but Anna’s nose ran with black snot from the fire her mother had to cook over.
The only water Anna Lucia has access to is polluted.
She and her family have no sink. No toilet.
Anna’s mother is named Maria and she’s only a teenager though she looks three times her age.
Her father works a tiny field outside their house.
The summer before this picture Anna’s parents borrowed money to send a family member to the States to find work.
So when I met them not only were they impoverished, they were in debt too.
I’ve been working in Guatemala for a long time. Aldersgate has been sending service teams there for almost 10 years.
People often speak of the ‘spiritual high’ they get from serving the poor.
They talk about the ‘joy’ that comes in helping others.
And that’s part of it.
But you know what else I always leave feeling?
What I left Anna Lucia feeling?
Right after he’s baptized, Jesus goes to Galilee.
‘Galilee’ is Mark’s shorthand way of saying ‘on the other side of the tracks.’
As soon as he arrives, a leper comes up to Jesus. Gets down on his knees begging.
Leprosy assaults your body as your skin rots away.
But ‘leprosy also attacks your social network.
It brings you isolation. It makes you unclean. It leaves you socially unacceptable’ (Walter Brueggemann).
So not only does leprosy makes sick, it stigmatizes you.
Which, if you weren’t already, makes you poor.
And according to the Law of Moses, a leper’s ‘uncleanness’ can only be ritually removed by a duly vested priest.
This leper obviously knows the rules don’t give Jesus the right to cleanse him. That’s why he gives Jesus an out: “You could declare me clean, if you dare.”
And Mark says that ‘moved with anger’ Jesus stretches out his hand and Jesus touches this untouchable leper- touches him before he heals him- and Jesus says: “I do choose. Be made clean!”
And while the leprosy leaves him, Jesus doesn’t say ‘come and follow me’ or ‘your faith has made you well.’
No, Mark says Jesus snorts “with indignation.”
Here’s the money question Mark wants you to puzzle out:
Why is Jesus so angry?
Because this pushy leper didn’t say the magic word?
Because now all anyone will want from him are miracles?
Because this leper is only interested in a cure not carrying a cross?
Why is Jesus so angry?
In order to answer that question, you have to ask another one:
Why does Jesus send this ex-leper to show himself to the priests?
The answer Mark wants you to tease out is that this ex-leper had already gone to the priests and with the same question: ‘Will you declare me clean?’
Jesus is angry. Jesus snorts with indignation. Jesus huffs and puffs because before this leper begged Jesus, he went before the priests.
Just as the Bible instructs.
And they turned him away.
You see, the priests in Jesus’ day charged money for the ritual cleansing.
And money, if you were a leper, is something you didn’t have.
So not only were lepers marginalized and ostracized, they were victimized too.
And that, Mark says, makes for one PO’d Messiah.
What Would Jesus Do?
As often as we ask ourselves that question, ‘Get Torqued Off’ isn’t usually what comes to mind.
Jesus only has 19 verses of actual ministry under his belt here and already he’s righteously mad.
And Jesus keeps on getting angry, again and again, in Mark’s Gospel.
When a man with a withered hand approaches Jesus in church and the Pharisees look on in apathy, Jesus gets angry.
And when Jesus rides into Jerusalem and sees what’s going on, Jesus gets angry and throws a Temple tantrum.
And when Peter brings a sword to protect the Prince of Peace, Jesus gets angry and scolds him.
We tend to think that anger is a bad thing, that it’s something to be stamped out not sought after. Some have even numbered anger a ‘deadly sin.’
But we believe that Jesus was fully human, in him was the full complement of sinless human emotions.
Not only do we believe Jesus was fully human, scripture calls Jesus the 2nd Adam.
Jesus wasn’t just truly human; he’s the True Human.
He’s not only fully human; he’s the only human- the only one to ever be as fully alive as God made each of us to be.
Yet Jesus is angry all the time.
So anger isn’t always or necessarily a bad thing.
Instead of a flaw in our humanity, anger could be a way for us to become more human, as fully human as Jesus.
But how do we know the difference?
Between anger as a vice and anger as a virtue?
Scripture speaks of sin as ‘missing the mark.’
That is, sin is when our actions or desires are aimed towards something other than what God intends.
When you read straight through the Gospels, you notice how Jesus gets angry…all the time.
But what Jesus gets angry at-
is injustice, oppression, poverty
suffering and stigmatization
abuse and apathy.
That’s the kind of anger that hits God’s mark.
As a pastor, I run into people all the time who are convinced either that God is angry at them OR that the god of the Bible is an angry god.
So let me just say it plain:
The love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for us is unconditional.
Because the love between the Father, Son and Spirit is unceasing.
God’s love for us is unchanging because GOD IS UNCHANGING.
We cannot earn God’s love, no matter how hard we try.
We cannot lose God’s love, no matter how hard we try.
God does not change his mind about us.
Because God does not change his mind.
Because God does not change.
God IS NOT ANGRY.
God CANNOT EVER BE ANGRY.
Because he’s God.
But Jesus, the True Human Person, the 2nd Adam, the Fully Human One, he gets Angry.
And that means…so should we.
When we built that wood- stove in Anna’s house, we looked around for bits of rock and odds and ends to use to fill the holes in the cinder blocks before we filled them with mortar.
Want to guess one of the things I came across underneath some old, woven grain sacks?
An empty wrapper from an old meal.
What we do today by packaging these meals for people like Anna- I hope it gives you that feeling of joy that comes from serving others; I hope it leaves you with a sense of fulfillment having helped a cause greater than yourself.
But I hope it leaves you a little bit angry too.
Because if it does, you’ll leave here just a little bit more human.